It’s without a doubt that quitting your job to start your very own company is risky business.
But, for Lim Ee Ling, the process of sourcing and booking enrichment classes for her kids was so daunting and difficult, she decided to take matters into her own hands. Together with her husband, Liaw Yit Ming, and two other investors, Ee Ling launched her very own education platform called Smarter Me back in 2016.
We spoke to Ee Ling recently to find out more about how she started Smarter Me and the lessons she learned from starting her own business in Singapore.
1. Tell Us More About Yourself And Your Background
I’m Ee Ling, co-founder and CEO of Smarter Me, an edtech company. Before venturing into the startup world, I was an investment banker – first with CIMB Investment Bank in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and then with Bank of America Merrill Lynch in Singapore.
I graduated from the University of Queensland, Australia with a major in Finance, and spent most of my growing up years as a studious, typical straight-As student, holding various (nerdy) leadership roles (think class monitor, librarian, club president, etc.) and doing very little exciting activities!
I attribute part of my “proper” childhood to my mom, who, as a teacher was pretty demanding and strict with my brother and I!
2. How Did The Things You Learned As An Investment Banker Helped You As An Entrepreneur?
We’re well trained to survive with little sleep and to be always working on the go, so that definitely helps!
That aside, I learned to be resourceful and to be versatile. As investment bankers, we had to prepare advisory pitch books for various industries and companies despite having no prior industry knowledge.
We also had to be resilient in the face of rejections, especially with all those pitches and request for proposals which we did not win! Finally, one cannot neglect the importance of discipline.
In a highly competitive and hectic environment like investment banking, it takes discipline and drive to see things through, what with having to juggle multiple deals at a time. As an entrepreneur, you have to juggle the A to Z of operations and eliminate any hindrances, distractions or noise, and focus on making your business work.
3. What Are Some Things An Entrepreneur Needs To Succeed?
Resilience And Perseverance
We all grew up to the tune of adults telling us “nothing comes easy in life”, but it’s tough when you actually live it. Struggles, stress and rejection is expected in the journey of an entrepreneur.
After nine months of running the old Smarter Me, which was originally a marketplace for classes, we decided to pivot our business model. With the cloud of failure looming over my head, I had to keep psyching myself up – telling myself that we are pivoting to a better business and that it’s the right decision (It is!).
There’s really no other way to live through it than to master the art of re-channelling every rejection and stress towards a positive outcome. Whether you learn to change your mindset, to be more organised, to read more books, or to meditate, it’s essential for an entrepreneur to be able to get back on your feet and keep improving.
Open Mindedness And The Ability To Listen And Learn
It’s easy to think you’ve nailed it and that you’ve gotten this far due to your superior intellect or knack for knowing things. However, thinking this way is a sure path to failure. Listening enables us to learn from each other, from our predecessors as well as the market.
I know from personal experience that the people who are the hardest to listen to are those who tell you “I’ve been there and tried exactly what you’re trying to do. It doesn’t work.” That said, these are the people whom you should not just listen to but also to ask more questions so that you can gain insights and learn from their mistakes!
Know Your Strengths And Build On It
Entrepreneurs often feel that they have to know it all and do it all. While you do have to do it all at least until your business grows and you can hire a team, we all have something we are the best at, and that is what we should focus intensely on. So discover that early on, build on that, and actively hire help to do tasks that drain you.
4. What Was The Inspiration Behind Starting Smarter Me?
They say the best business to start is one that affects you daily. For me, like most parents, what keeps me troubled is whether or not my kids are prepared for the future. It started innocently with a grumble – my 12 year old asking why she needs to learn geology and when that information will serve her. That’s when it hit me – while start-ups globally are using tech to disrupt existing economies, education has barely changed amidst the tech-powered world we live in.
21 per cent of jobs in Singapore will disappear by 2028, when most of my and my friends’ kids are entering the workforce. The future of work and employment will change drastically, yet education hasn’t kept up or been disrupted enough. Looking at our girls, we felt that there’s a need to create a school which complements the current education system in order to prepare our kids to adapt to the future world. The core tech skills are important, but beyond that, we find it critical to equip kids with the right mindset and heartset.
I personally do not have programming knowledge, but I’m literally learning together with my kids and students, starting with Scratch and Lego Mindstorms through the courses taught by experienced practitioners and educators whom we partner at Smarter Me!
5. What Are Some Skills Adults Should Have To Stay Relevant In The Workplace?
I believe the number one skill we adults should have is teachability and learnability. Singaporeans’ average life expectancy is forecasted to rise to 85.4 years, and coupled with lower birth rates, it’s inevitable that we’ll be working for longer years. Who’s to know for certain what skills will be most in demand in another 20 years? The beauty of technology and connectivity is that we now have knowledge and skills at our fingertips – all you need is WiFi and the open-mindedness to learn through non-traditional channels.
My second is less of a skill, but more of the mindset and heartset. What I’m referring to is the knowledge of who you are, what you’re good at, and what gives you meaning. It’s not a new concept – According to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, this is the self-actualisation stage in life. With the finding of meaning and purpose, comes the overwhelming commitment to problem-solve, to create change through creativity and innovation. These are the skills we need for the future.
Find out more about Ee Ling and Smarter Me by visiting their site, www.smarterme.sg